There were countless reasons why Arnon Shorr '01 shouldn’t have made a movie about Jewish pirates. He had never shot a film on water. The story took place around the time of the Spanish Inquisition, which meant expensive costumes and props. Insurance would be astronomical. And where was he going to find a ship to rent, given his very modest, crowd-funded budget?
"The project nagged at me," said Arnon, 36, a 2001 graduate of Gann, which was then known as The New Jewish High School of Greater Boston. "On a whim, I started emailing my script around, asking if anyone had a tall ship and might be amenable to working within our scrappy, indie film budget." A California-based ocean education nonprofit with two tall ships got back to him and offered a steep discount on the rental fee. Fast forward a few months. Shot in a single day in December 2016, The Pirate Captain Toledano tells the story of a young Jewish stowaway and the captain who must decide his fate. Although the story is fictional, it’s based on a little-known chapter of history, when Jewish pirates plundered the high seas. For the past year, the short film has screened at a couple dozen festivals around the world, picking up several awards along the way.
Arnon was bitten hard by the moviemaking bug at age 10. A Modern Orthodox Jew, he came to “New Jew,” as it was nicknamed, in 10th grade from Maimonides School, looking for the artistic immersion his old school couldn’t provide. “New Jew shaped me tremendously and gave me a lot of confidence,” says Arnon, who went on to major in film studies and philosophy at Brandeis. “The school is founded on a pluralistic philosophy and discourse is sacred. We learned to channel disagreement through a sense of common purpose and that has dramatically influenced the way I navigate life.” During high school, faculty and staff nurtured Arnon’s interest in film: one highlight was interviewing playwright David Mamet, an early Gann supporter, for a movie about the school. After graduation, he was invited back to teach video production and film history classes while attending Brandeis.
It’s been a busy couple of decades for Arnon, who has produced more than 100 short films, promotional videos and web series episodes, including sketches for Hassidic comic Mendy Pellin. Arnon and his wife, a family medicine physician, live in the Los Angeles area with their two young children.
Learn more about The Pirate Captain Toledano on the short film's Facebook and IMDB pages.